For almost two decades, I’ve been coaching financial advisors and insurance agents in a wide variety of facets of their business. One of the most important of those is sales as without the ability to sell, you would not have a client base. A common theme that I have heard from individuals during coaching sessions is that selling is telling, if you just tell them what they need, they will buy. However, telling prospects what they “should do” could be a recipe for disaster. The alternative is a well thought out strategy of asking prospects what they think they “should do” to create success for themselves.
You may be surprised to learn that not all questions you ask necessarily create a connection though. For example, take Jake, a financial advisor client of mine whose boss hired me to help him increase his sales skills. During an individual coaching session we role played the first appointment process. Knowing that questions are important, Jake did his best to uncover my character’s situation and make a good connection but instead he ended up merely pushing me away. After five minutes of me grunting replies such as “yes, no, I guess, I don’t know and maybe” I knew Jake didn’t fully understand what he was doing that was hurting him during the conversation; he was in a monologue-only delivery whereas he needed to be in a dialogue with me instead.
“Do you think I was connected?” I cautiously asked. “No, but I asked a lot of questions. I guess they weren’t the right ones” he said with shame in his voice. “Jake, it’s not that your questions were wrong but instead it was that you were using the wrong types of questions.” I replied. “Most of the questions you were asking were closed-ended questions which typically illicit a yes or no response. If most of my responses are words like, “yes, no, I don’t know” and so on, are we in a dialogue or are you in a monologue?” He paused and excitedly said, “So, in order to connect I need to get you to open up by using opened-ended questions? Let’s go over those!”
At that moment I knew it was time to create a simple exercise to increase his questions selling skill sets so I had him draw a vertical line on a piece of paper and label the left side Monologue and the right side Dialogue.
“Jake, underneath the Monologue heading I want you to write “closed-ended” questions and underneath the Dialogue heading I want you to write “open-ended” questions, one question for each line.” I said. I gave him a list of each and he wrote them down. “Next, I will do a five minute role play in which I am the advisor and you are the prospect. My goal is to get you do open up. How do you think I will do that?” “Well,” he paused, “By asking me open-ended questions.”
After five minutes I asked him, “Did you feel connected?” “Absolutely, I did all the talking and your questions got me to open up more than I thought I would!” he said in surprise. “That’s exactly why open-ended questions work so well because they get the listener to open up and that creates a dialogue which creates a better connection.” I explained. “Now, it’s your turn.”
The next role play was amazing! Jake got me to open up as this simple exercise opened his eyes to understanding how important it is to use the right types of questions. Since then, I’ve added elements to the exercise to turn it into a game and I have played that game in several individual and group coaching sessions; time-after-time it has improved the communication process!